Still, after she felt that lump in 1988, she became better known for her sickness than she ever was for her golf game. She did not attract a morbid interest, though. It was just that her fight, what she had to do or maybe just chose to do, was so shocking in its gravity and its detail. Perhaps many cancer patients suffer similarly as they choose aggressive treatments. But the particulars, as we came to learn them of this public figure, were scarifying enough to make her endurance riveting.
Her first treatments, after her breast and lymph nodes were removed in 1989, caused nausea and hair loss, common consequences. Eleven months after her first chemotherapy treatments had ended, more tumors were discovered. She chose to attack them with a bone-marrow transplant, but before it could be scheduled, a tumor would have to be removed from her spine. That surgery left her with a seven-inch rod in her back and with more or less constant pain. And even after the transplant had been done—it demanded a chemotherapy so toxic it impaired her hearing and caused her to vomit for three months after she returned home—available statistics promised no better than a 50% chance of survival.
And after each procedure, new spots would show. Even after the transplant, the tumor on her skull remained. In the summer of 1991 it was removed. Three months after that a spot was discovered on her hip. More radiation therapy. Still, five months after, in February 1992, undaunted, she announced she would return to the tour in 1993.
She was never able to, of course. In the spring of 1992 doctors found cancerous lesions on her skull and pelvis, a discovery that not only interrupted plans to rejoin the tour but also threw her wedding plans with Goran Lingmerth, a former NFL kicker, into disarray. Another procedure was required, more radiation, after which, undaunted still, she did indeed marry.
But the window of remission never opened fully for Farr, and there was never a stretch of normalcy for her. Doctors apprised her of their gruesome discoveries and demanded yet more procedures. Last August doctors performed emergency surgery to remove a breast implant that had hardened. In September she underwent an X-ray procedure to destroy another cancerous tumor on her spine. In October she had a series of operations to stop internal bleeding and to reconstruct her chest wall. And in November, a day before Farr was to be sent home for additional treatment, a doctor in California told her he'd discovered a new hematoma. "If she doesn't fall apart now," her mother, Sharon, told The Orange County Register at the time, "she never will." She didn't fall apart and did finally get back to Arizona, where she died, racked by seizures and hemorrhages, several procedures later.
It is difficult, maybe impossible, to make sense of Heather Farr's life and death. It would be much easier to extract a lesson had she somehow survived. But she didn't, and her agonies and disappointments seem all the more terrible without the payoff of old age. She played through it, all right, and for what? Just so the rest of us would get a glimpse of the upper threshold of hope?
About all you can say for sure is she's gone and that her long bouncy stride down the fairway will be forever missed. About that stride: She knew people laughed at it, the way she rushed off the tee, a walk too exaggerated to be simply purposeful, hurried enough to be comic. But she couldn't help it. Long ago her father had told her that she would have to try—try doubly hard—to keep up if she wanted to play with the older, much taller guys, guys like Billy Mayfair. They would leave her behind if she didn't. So you must picture, if you can, the tiny figure, just 5'1", given reprieve from her procedures, bounding down the fairway at a ridiculous pace. Heather Farr, playing through.